For adults struggling with stress, it all begins with a thought
A thought that is more often than not a product of an environment or situation. Two things, which when combined, make us feel stressed. While the stress we suffer comes from a singular, or collection of, thoughts, as adults, the symptoms we can display are vast and varied.
- A tight chest
- Heart pounding
- Sweaty palms
- Nervous feeling
- Struggle to think logically
So, what is actually going on in your body, and brain, to generate the physical feelings we relate to stress?
In the brain it is the amygdala that picks up when we are feeling stressed, feeling anxious. Anxiety is something we all need to help us understand fear. Stress feels like fear, so, when we’re stressed our ‘danger alarm’ goes on, in the centre of the brain. This effectively builds a roadblock between the logical side of the brain and the knowledge/memory side of the brain. We literally, physically, and biologically, struggle to think clearly when we’re stressed.
Which makes it exceedingly difficult for adults to logically make decisions. And not only will decisions be tricky, but retaining information is harder too. As the brain makes logical thinking harder, this can sometimes lead to panic and panic attacks. Which can often feel like a heart attack.
Stress also raises the cortisol levels in our body. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol pumps around our body to help us balance stress. Cortisol is also responsible for keeping our blood pressure and sugar level balanced. Stress unbalances both of these, due to the production of more cortisol. This is why when we’re stressed, we experience high blood pressure, sleepless nights, possibly bad skin/acne, rashes – there are so many physical symptoms that can be exhibited. The ultimate one of which is terribly dangerous. Alongside your heart rate and your blood pressure rising, the adrenal glands – which produce cortisol – can produce so much that they fail. Leading to burn out – if there’s no cortisol, there’s no way to balance countless processes in the body.
All of these outcomes are a result of that thought you had – remember that So, it is up to us to really work at that thought, to get to the bottom of why it occurred in the first place, and this is where we put coping strategies in place to help clients cope. Those such as breathing and mindfulness.
To do that we look at your setting and environment – is that the cause of these thoughts? Can it be adapted or changed? Or is it just not a healthy place for you? This could be particularly relevant for those returning to work following a period of working from home, for example. The change in situation and environment could result in a stressful reaction and harmful mindset leaving you feeling overloaded, anxious, and overwhelmed, not able to do your job properly. Step back and look at your environment. If you don’t have the option to change or remove yourself from it, the next step is to look at changing those thoughts and perspectives, leading you to see your environment from a different point of view.
To do that, to learn how to cope, address those thoughts and alter our perspective, we build a toolkit with our clients, which include techniques such as:
- Breathing techniques –7/11 breathing, hand breathing – breath up on finger and down/out, for all five fingers – it not only helps control breathing but it’s tactile and comforting too
- Positive self-talk – I can do this
- The Stress Bucket
- Hot Crossed Buns
- The Chimp Paradox
The Stress Bucket – a fantastic tool that our therapists use regularly. Imagine a big bucket, with a tap on the side of it. Fill up the bucket with everything that you feel causes you stress. Is it still empty? We’re guessing, no. Half-full? Full or overflowing? Look to the tap – what can we put in there to reduce your stress? Yoga, a walk, distractions such as music, cooking, exercise? Now, every time you recognised that you’re feeling stressed, go to your tap and use something in there to remove something from the bucket.
Hot Cross Bun – One of the best CBT tools we use to discuss stress with our clients. It’s an easy model to follow and offers up a snapshot of what’s causing stress and its knock-on effect. When we suffer with stress, we feel it first. Stress is a part of anxiety, so you become aware of how you feel first, rather than the thought that has caused those feelings. The hot cross bun model can help us identify stress, what thought is causing it and how we can address it by recognising emotional and physical reactions.
The Chimp Paradox – Created by Professor Steve Peters, the Chimp Paradox is an incredibly powerful mind management model that we use to help our clients develop the skills, for example, to remove anxiety, have confidence and choose their emotions. We go through what happens when the chimp gets out of the cage and how to calm it back down again, enough to get it back in the cage.